Ah, summer. It’s the time of crisp white wine and bottles of prosecco popping off all over Instagram—and a seasonal nightmare for red-wine lovers. Opening up a bottle of stuff served room-temperature on a hot, humid day can be utterly un-refreshing, especially if it’s the kind of super-dry red that leaves you thirstier than your already-dehydrated self was before taking a sip. But missing out on the deliciousness of red wine for a whole season is a fairly tragic thought.
Luckily, there are plenty of non-whites or -rosés that are wonderful in the summer—and yes, it’s absolutely fine and not gauche to chill some of them. Just reach for reds described as “bright,” “fruity,” and “light-bodied,” and think twice about anything that says “dry” on the label unless you want to wake up at 3 a.m. feeling like you swallowed sand from the Sahara.
I have decent luck in the summer with reds that come from wine regions that tend to have hot summers themselves; chances are those winemakers aren’t going to love a wine that makes them feel gross, either. On a recent trip to southeastern Spain, I spent a week touring vineyards from Valencia to Alicante, which are major beach destinations that get very, very hot. Not surprisingly, the reds there—made from little-known varieties like the juicy, vibrant monastrell and bobal grapes—are perfect for summer days. Beaujolais, grenache, and pinot noir are some of the other varietals I reach for from May to September. Just pop them in the fridge close to when you’re going to drink them, or you’ll kill the flavors.
Here, eight great red wines that hold their own in the summer heat, perfect for sipping during a barbecue or around a bonfire. Plus, they're all under $35.
Pretty much everything that comes from the winery, which is run by Enrique’s son Pepe, is exceptionally good. The wine is clean, fresh, and super vibrant (and tastes way more expensive than it is). It’s basically a delicious fruit salad, with plums, cherry, raspberry, and other red fruits, plus a little chocolate on the end. It’s great for picnics or with anything grilled (I want to try it with lamb).
Israel gets pretty hot in the summer, so you can bet that the winemakers there can turn out a red that stands up to a little refrigeration. This one is a Wine Enthusiast Editor’s Choice, and a great pick for when you want to bring something that’s not a standard French or Spanish wine to the party.
Says Sam Soroka, winemaker at the vineyard: "Red wine is drunk in Israel's hot climate year-round, so when enjoying a red wine in the summer, I'm looking for one that can stand up to a little chilling and still be just as pleasurable on the palate.” (Same.) With this one, he adds, expect kumquat jam, yellow peach, and rose water. It’s gonna be a conversation starter...and it’s kosher!
Bobal, found around the coast near Valencia, is one of the world’s more overlooked grapes. It's usually used as part of a red blend. But a small group of Spanish producers—including Bodegas Mustiguillo, a winery founded to work with this grape, specifically—are making it a Thing on its own.
Word of warning: Not all bobal is great, so it pays to do your research. But Atance Bobal shows off what the grape can be. It’s a great pick for summer, thanks to its medium body, bright red fruits, and some herby spice that’s perfect to complement a barbecue.
Plus, it’s packed with resveratrol, an anti-aging antioxidant that some studies say is great for your heart. So it’s basically healthy, right?
On their own, I prefer Côtes du Rhône wines for the cooler times of year, and Les Dauphins has been my go-to. But throw one in with what’s coming off of a summer grill—seasoned veggie skewers, burgers, bratwurst—and it kicks both the food and the wine itself up to another level. With the Les Dauphins—one of the best-value Côtes du Rhônes out there—think zesty, filled-out flavors, with lots of lovely red berries and a bit of spice on the backside.
Look for the 2016 in particular, says the label’s winemaker, Laurent Paré: “Thanks to a phenomenal 2016 growing season in Côtes du Rhône, this bottle also provides enough body to hold up to that piece of red meat you have searing on the barbecue, while maintaining refreshing acidity in the summer heat."
Full disclosure: I tried five years of Volver’s Triga at an on-site wine tasting, and because it was so good that I drained each glass (for research, of course), my notes got a little weird. If we’re going to choose favorites, the 2012 was the absolute best, followed by the 2013—but at $40-plus, they’re a little more of a splurge. The 2014, even though it’s a little younger and not quite as developed as the older vintages, was still exceptional and manages to fall within budget.
Made with monastrell and cabernet grapes, this wine brings a strong whiff of chocolate (yum) before serving up licorice and dark fruit (think ripe, juicy blackberries). The rest of my tipsy notes say, “insanely good. Stop being this good."
This easy-drinkin’ red hails from what is basically a stone field in the small Spanish region of Jumilla, an area in Murcia whose name, I was told, is loosely related to getting tipsy (it’s also known for its delicious Drunken Goat cheese, so they’ve pretty much got life figured out there). This monastrell is pretty dry and crisp, but still bright for the the summer and can definitely be drunk on its own. If you’re going to serve it with something, its minerality cuts right through the summer’s fattier foods.
If you don’t see this blend from the bodega, their 2017 Vino de Finca is actually delightful (light with lots of cherry flavors).
Pinot noirs are one of the best wines for summer, and those from cooler climates like the Sonoma Coast, where this hails from, tend to be particularly light. "Bursting with fruit flavors like cherry, plum and blood orange, this wine pairs well with a day lounging on the beach or a backyard barbecue on the first warm night of summer," says La Crema winemaker Craig McAllister. Yum.
La Crema is also pretty easy to find (you’ve probably seen its chardonnay on a wine list or two), so it’s a solid pick wherever you are in the States.
Not gonna lie, this one had me fooled at first: My initial whiff (I tried the 2017 at my tasting) was kind of inoffensive in a boring way, and I didn’t really expect much. Then I took a sip, and my mind was blown—like that straight-laced coworker who turns out to be a damn riot at happy hour. This grenache-tintorera based wine with a healthy dose of monastrell makes for an excellent summer wine, especially one served a little chilled—and bonus points for the way it’s aged: Underground in amphorae, like the Romans did.
It’s not dry, but it’s not sweet, either, and it’s dark without being too much or super oaky. I’m already dreaming of it with some bratwurst fresh off the grill, but I’m happy to dream about anything from this Valencian winemaker. Their whites are also insanely good.